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Scientific Lectures //

Psychopathy and Fearlessness: A Psychophysiological Perspective

Nicholas Thomson, PhD, UKCP, CPC, Assistant Professor, Division of Acute Care Surgical Services, Department of Surgery, Virginia Commonwealth University Health 

Presented: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 

ABSTRACT: There is an active debate about the link between psychopathy and fearlessness that dates to earliest empirical work in the field (Lykken, 1957). Despite this longstanding discussion, few studies have explicitly tested this association and the results so far have been mixed. This may be due, in part, to the lack of specificity in fear assessment and a variety of different samples being tested. Further, the relation between psychopathy and fear may be better understood using the factor structure of psychopathy, because, in theory, fear has opposing associations with interpersonal-affective and impulsive-antisocial traits. That is, interpersonal-affective traits are suggested to be related to hypoarousal, whereas impulsive-antisocial traits are linked to hyperarousal to fear. For this talk, I will present my ongoing research investigating the link between psychopathic traits and fear reactivity using measures of sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system reactivity, while participants experience virtual reality fear induction. Results are presented for four cohorts, ranging from middle-aged children to young adults. Next, we will review preliminary data on the implications of these findings in the context of violence risk assessment.

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